Echobox Finder X1 Review
Thanks to Echobox for the sample.
First Impressions: Is it me or are earphones all getting more and more pretty? I realise I’m a sucker for bare metal and their bare titanium with their inverse trumpet back end, they are VERY much to my tastes. Not that being pretty is important to me, I mean I love the gigantic monster that is the R3 but with things getting so competitive pretty doesn’t hurt. These are attractive little beasts. Seriously though, little may not be apt to capture just how tiny the buggers are. It’s like the q-JAYS and MA-750 got drunk one night and got a present 9 months later. Their unusual shape however means that despite being stupidly small they can fit in whatever sized driver. I don’t see its spec other than it can go from 15Hz to 32kHz and that wasn’t a typo, 32 not 22. I mean 22 is beyond what most humans can hear but 32 is just crazy.
So in the ears and I do notice that they have on the “white” filters. The manual says they come with the “black” filters on. With black the bass, white the flat and red the treble ones. A typo in the manual or did they put on the wrong filters? I mean they probably should come with the middle ones anyway but I can see I’ll be heading to the bass ones fairly quickly. These are reminding me VERY much of the Panasonic HJE-900 Cubic Zirconia things. They were utterly non-resonant and unyielding acoustically and so are these. The titanium is relentless and unyieldingly ridged.
Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5 and Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.
Lows: When things come with filters for altering the sound I always expect that the bass one will be the one for me. You see I’m not a bass head by any stretch but I am on the treble sensitive side. There are no surprises here, the bass filter is easily the one for me. Though I shall note that while it’s called the bass filter, you still don’t get mountains of the stuff. I’ll grant that was a little unexpected, it’s a nice amount but I can see there still being those out there that will be hitting that bass boost button. I even caught myself doing it from time to time. It’s just so clean. It’s highly sculpted but it’s so reticent to explode all over the place, so clean cut, so polished, I find it a little flavourless. It’s beautify cold and clean bass, so little give or bloom to it. So granite like in its utter rigidity. It reminds so much of the HJE-900 though it had rather more bass, to the point its utter lack of give got oppressive. The X1 never really come across as skill punching like the panny did. I know that if there was more I’d be claiming that it’s fun but gets super ear tiring. Lol yes I realise I’m never totally happy with everything.
Tonally, the X1 is all about the unforgiving and unyielding nature of its construction. Just like the panny, its housing, in this case titanium, has no give whatsoever to it. There is a cold savagery to it, it’ll spit out just exactly what it’s been told to with all the subtly of a chainsaw. It’ll smash through anything in its way, it’ll sand no edges, soften no brashness, gloss over no flaw. The cold hard brutality of the source is set out. No more no less and with no sentimentality. All of this I’m not sure I love in pop but in well recorded classical works, the cold and emotionless bass is so cleanly rendered it is magnificent. Linn’s Christmas giveaway recordings, which are super well recorded, are absolutely exquisite. This level of bass precision is wondrous. It is a paragon of a completely detached acoustic emulation. Strings are perfect.
Depth too is first rate, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, organ works that little driver and it clings on, with the same vicious tightness. There is no give, no softening, no casual relaxation. It takes that low note on like a crocodile with a wildebeest in its jaws, there is no escaping, no forgiveness, no loosening acoustically of that note. If you are huge on organ music you may be onto a winner here. The opening of Also Saprach Zarathustra is just ridiculous.
Mids: To continue where the bass left off. Strings are absolutely perfection. It’s all so coldly analytical. In some ways they out Ety the ER4. It has that same cold, clean explicitness but the dynamics on the X1 are far better. Well “better” I really mean as the ER4 can do wonders but it needs a power station to shift it, also the highly sealed and closed in nature of the ER4 means the X1 feels far more spectacularly open and airy. Strings are absolutely in their element on the X1, all the cleanliness of the CK10 and more but with gobs of air, so clean, so much space to move dynamically in that you really need the best quality recordings to show them off at their best. Vocals suffer I think a little from this very emotionally detached style. They are clean and articulate but they have a faint coldness to them. There has been striped an element of the natural human warmth. Clean, loads of detail, soooo much detail to examine in high detail. Still that smooth gently natural nature is a little lacking. Nora sounds like she is just singing the words but isn’t feeling the words. Beautiful articulation of course but it’s a little too bright, to cold and too unfeeling.
Classical however shines, it’s like you can pinch to zoom and just expand any piece to fill your whole field of view. All of the detail, all that bright, hyper explicit with every single note painstakingly carved from a block of steel before you. Coldly flawless. Nana Mouskouri’s Ave Maria sounds achingly ethereal. You know it wouldn’t have hurt to have more mids, they are just that tad pushed back for me.
Highs: Here the first thing I’m going to say is that if you are like me, rather treble sensitive, these may not be the IEM for you. Even with the bass filters in the treble was pushing at the upper range of my tolerance. The extension I think is in part to blame for this. I know the spec sheets of things often say silly numbers, these claim they extend to 35kHz. I can well believe that. I realise my ears can’t go that far, last time they were tested I could hear up to the 23kHz cut off they said their equip was calibrated for. So I don’t know where these go to, but holy Christ they do like to be explicit up top. Wow that’s some seriously spectacular treble going on. It too spectacular and too dazzling. A big part of why the ER4 sound so dull beside these is that the treble extension is just stupid here, just silly bugger levels of dazzle.
So quantitatively these even on the bass filters are a pretty bright IEM, I can’t imagine many users will be running to the treble filter unless they have some upper range hearing loss. The detail extraction level maybe insane, everything so hyper over explicit and hurled at you it can be dazzling nightmare of blinding brilliance and savagery. The middle or “neutral” filter is a bit better, yet still, bugger me that’s a lot of treble. More tolerable but, with my Studio V and its relatively hard, bighty, treble they made for an explosively brilliant combination. It makes an incredible first impression but oh my god does it wear me out fast.
Fragile and delicate the treble can be, like the finest crystal but likewise it can be an explosive shower of shards of that same crystal. Tiny slivers of the sharpest slivers slicing edges ever so lightly cutting into you. Beautiful and brilliant. I find that even with the bass tips I yearn for a treble reducing button sometimes and my ears gravitating to softest of tracks, like that of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow, What A Wonderful World.” So breathy, so delicately beautiful and so beautifully rendered. So gentle on the ear.
Soundstage: All that airy upper end action gives the impression of much open, airy, space for the music to breathe in. However it’s not actually that big, the distances involved are never great, things like stay up close and present. The mids are a little distant, pushed back from that “assertive” upper end that makes sure you can see everything that’s going on. It’s very upfront and not in least bit shy. The bass is a little more like the mid range, a bit more distance, yet power when called upon but it is that of a large room.
Comfort: Great. No issues for me in any way, though if you insist on wearing down you do get them tugging at your ears. No physical issues for me.
Fit: They are a nice standard, round shape so no issues here. Getting in was no bother at all, however….. their trumpet like shape meant there isn’t much to grip on trying to pull them out. The angle they make contact with your finger too encourages your fingers to just slide right off them. It was no trouble for extended use but if you’re pulling them out every 5 minutes that would quickly begin to get on my nerves.
Aesthetics: Looks are a highly subjective however I, as a rule, always like bare metal. The aluminium C751, the steel T20, and here we have the titanium X1. Each as much a visual statement as they are acoustic. Their clean, simplistic lines and tone, that darkened, almost pewter like silvery subtlety is sublime. I mean these aren’t going to appeal to those who think the Monster Turbine Pro Gold’s were classy but in my humble opinion, these are one of the best lookers out there. I find their bare titanium to have a certain elegance and casual simplicity that perfectly squares with my own aesthetic values.
Microphonics: None. Wearing up there was none at all, even trying to hit the cable. Wearing down, you usually get some but practically nothing here. Pair that with the cable synch and there really is none at all. Could it be due to the lack of a cable strain relief at the buds?
Amped/Unamped: Do these need an amp? No. Do they want one? Well yeah, they kinda do. Don’t get me wrong out of the little 1G shuffle they rocked and out of the Lumia 735 they similarly did very well. Still with their hyper hurl “all of da details!!!!!!” in your face presentation they want to give them the power to do that with all the refinement having more power can muster. I don’t doubt that when the Explorer comes along there will be a fair degree of synergy at work.
One curious thing to note is if you have an Ety 75 ohm adapter laying around, give it a go. Seriously, it’s been a good while since I’ve fund something that was so marked an improvement. The extra impedance took the 735 or the Shuffle and propelled them well towards having an amp. Crazy but whoa, the treble difference especially was a great big dose of refinement, I’m gonna say right now if you buy a Finder X1 spend the extra 10 bucks and grab an Ety like adapter off eBay. It’ll be the best upgrade you’ll get spending a tenner.
Isolation: Yeah they were fine. Towards the upper end of what you get with dynamics these days. So that means easily fine for most use cases. You know, walking out and about, on a bus, etc etc. Not exactly what I’d want for a flight or Tube commute but you know, you could scrape by if it’s what you’ve got. Oh and naturally it’s easily enough for you not to notice the bus that’s 10 feet away from turning you into a road stain. Eyes people, do remember to use them.
Cable: It would appear to be some slightly translucent grey sheath, covering what appears to be some twisted cable. It’s a tiny bit stiff but on the whole seems great. It’s got negligible friction so it doesn’t catch on your clothing (I’m looking at you RHA) so despite being relatively thin it all seems to be of the highest quality. Oh and is seems highly tangle resistant which is super nice.
Build Quality: Well, the things are made from titanium. Short of them being made from crystalline carbon I’m not really sure what you could do make them more indestructible housings? The jack too would appear to be titanium. The cable I can’t really tell what it’s made of if feels premium. The only place actually where I have any reason to pause is at the buds. They don’t seem to have an external cable strain relief, with the buds not easy to grasp shape I found I did, several times, pull them from my ears using the cable. That is something I always strongly advise against. They do specify they have an internal strain relief so given how well built everything else is I’m willing to give Echobox the benefit of the doubt on this one, only time can tell if it’ll become an issue.
Accessories: You get a reasonable bunch of bits. 5 pairs of tips, three pairs of filters and a rather nice case. The case is maybe touch big for them but better that than too small. Oh and you get three pair of Comply’s too, which is rather unusual but always welcome.
Value: They are scheduled to retail at US$200, so if you jumped on their recent Indiegogo offers, they were going for as low as US$80 which is pretty crazy. So US$200 is just now £140, casting my eyes to the things I pulled out for comparing them to, the ER4 sat around that price didn’t it, with the reference filter on I felt they were Ety besting and they are now going for US$300 it seems. The CK10 you just can’t get anymore. Their real competition is the RHA T20 at £180 or US$240. Arguably at this audio quality level US$40 is just not particularly a material difference. I love them both and I think both are so deserving of your money, both are insanely built too. I want to throw them in a box together and shout fight!!! Mind you the Finder is not only the cheaper its also made from titanium…… so yeah, they are well worth the wallet beating you’ll take.
Conclusion: Argh, sometimes there things that you can just rattle out the review of nice an easy. Somethings are more complicated than that. This is one of the latter. You see, I’m not inclined to like filters for a start. They are just a pain in the bum for reviewing as you have to do three times as much work (okay not exactly but you know what I mean) and there is going to be 1 that works best for you. The others not so much. So what do you take as the judgment point? Do I go with the crazy lunatic treble, so filled with detail but can feel like a crystal decanter exploding in my face? To the like of those who loved the DBA-02 treble, they will gush and drool over the treble filter. I can see merits to that sound style and praise it accordingly even if it is absolutely not for me personally. Filters, though they complicate things.
With the black, the bassy filter or what really should be termed, the one with a filter in it to tame the treble. For me, no question whatsoever was the one I’d take every time, honestly it’s the one I’d expect most to use too, frankly I could bin the other two and I’d never miss them. The treble is the “hot potato” on the Finder X1, it’s so very highly skilled, my god its ER4 maybe even CK10 besting but bugger me it’s not relaxed. The bass filter does it best to dial down the quantity to more tolerable levels, the quality remains but that uber insanely pin crisp edge is lost. Like sucking on a lime wedge, it’s so tart and sharp and mouth drawing yet there is something that makes you want to do it again. See, stupid filters and their clouding the picture.
Sound quality, for a first outing Echobox would seem to have hit a bit of a belter. I should confess that I really wasn’t originally very interested in the Finder, it’s their upcoming Explorer X1 DAP I really want to grab one of but they have a winner on their hands I think. Though I’d scrap the treble filter, and create a new much more bassy filter so the current bassy one becomes the middle one and the current reference becomes the new treble one. I do feel it could do with a bit of an overall shift in the bass direction but I suppose its nothing a bass boost button can’t fill in for those who want massive bass.
So, would I buy one? Oh yes and it’s a pretty easy yes too. I know it’s only February but so far this is the one that I can see being the years benchmark IEM. It’s got everything really, great looks, great (if not insane) construction, comes with a good bundle and it sounds fantastic. Sure a little softness wouldn’t kill it. Its only real flaw is that it can be a unforgiving but I’ve got warm DAP’s and most of my music is stuff of good quality so it’s not a massive issue for me. Plus keep in mind this is a first product too, I hope to see more things from Echobox and I expect those things to be amazing as the Finder X1 is. As of now they are my company to watch this year.